Like so many other areas of the economy, the bottom dropped out of the lead generation business in 2009. Advertisers, in the face of a down market, were tightening their belts wherever they could and lead generation was an easy target. With so many companies offering the same sort of service, publishers were forced to compete on cost-per-lead pricing and some companies were basically giving away contacts for free.
Forward-thinking publishers began looking for the value-add, and many have turned to sophisticated software and business intelligence tools to produce more highly-qualified leads than were previously available. Whether buying off-the-shelf solutions, creating tools in-house or using a combination of the two, publishers are now driving and nurturing leads down the value chain and making lead generation a real profit center again.
The result? Publishers are seeing some solid return on investments. For example, Salon.com began using Contactology’s e-mail marketing software to manage its daily e-mail newsletters. “One pretty unique tool they have is a URL grabber, which basically takes a snaphot version of our Web site everyday and sends out a newsletter version to subscribers,” explains Salon.com project manager Rachel Hagen.
Salon.com couples the newsletter with a campaign, and advertisers can choose to sponsor both the newsletter and the site. “Because newsletter subscribers are our most engaged uses, these are really the ones our advertisers want to talk to,” says Hagen. “Contactology has a heat map which tells us where the bulk of the clicks are, the open rate, the clickthrough rate and how many have bounced back. We combine that information with Google analytics to show us what they do once they come to the site. So, now we can tell an advertiser: here’s the size of our list, show them that it’s a highly engaged list and that we have the ability to target ad and generate analytics with our newsletter. It’s a demonstrable product to offer advertisers.”
Over time, the more e-mail campaigns that are sent, the more meta data can be gathered to evaluate each contact, says Will Elliot, vice president of marketing and sales at Contactology. “We can tell publishers if their readers are opening the e-mails, clicking through, forwarding it to friends or sharing it across social media,” he adds. “All of these things add up to allow us to gauge who are your most engaged readers.”
Lead Generation Plus…
Atlanta, Georgia-based Silverpop offers a marketing automation service that helps publishers perform lead management, scoring, nurturing and CRM integration. According to Silverpop director of product strategy Bryan Brown, by matching content to tracked behavior, publishers can increase click rates by 3.1 percent to 10.1 percent, while open rates increase 19.6 percent to 33.3 percent. The company also enhances lead generation analytics, by tracking how much of your traffic comes to your site via social media versus a Google search, and how and where your readers are sharing your content.
“We’re seeing a 20x return-on-investment in Silverpop to monthly revenue now being generated,” says Rob Oberheide, Internet marketing manager at Kalmbach Publishing. Further, he adds “We realized we needed to further qualify people who signed up for our newsletters. The five-step welcome e-mail campaign we do with Silverpop has driven a 15 percent increase in magazine subscriptions. And, the increased focus on list hygiene has helped us achieve a 99.5 percent deliverability rate.”
Home Grown Applications
David Newcorn, vice president of digital & custom media at Summit Media Group, points to lead generation as a big driver of digital sales since the company ventured into the area in 2004. However, Summit began to experience pushback from advertisers regarding cost-per-lead versus the quality of leads generated.
To answer customers’ concerns, “We came out with a product last year called Lead Select. It’s a cost-per-lead program—we tell them to give us their content, their white papers and so on,” says Newcorn. “But we don’t sell placement, we sell outcome. We produce a spreadsheet calculator tool that advertisers can use to determine how many leads they want, from selected industries and other qualifiers. We use that to produce a quote. Our in-house application filters out leads that don’t fit the parameters. It makes it a little bit harder for us to fulfill, but it makes it easier to sell to advertisers, and that’s enabled us to hold on to our lead generation business.”
Instead of producing just traditional magazine content, Summit went into very specific product areas and did How To guides. “The content is 100 percent editorial,” says Newcorn. “And then we go to advertisers in those areas and sell sponsorship with logos and display ads. The conventional wisdom is that people don’t like filling out forms, but our gamble is that if you get a 70-page book regarding your specific industry, you’re going to fill out the questions. And then that produces highly qualified leads for our advertisers.”
Maurice Bakley, COO at FierceMarkets, agrees that content is key for lead generation. “The CPL stuff was a race to the bottom,” he recalls. “We saw the downturn coming, so we built a back-office database to serve offers and target demographics on our Web sites. That was probably 10-12 percent of annual revenue. In 2010, we started seeing demands for leads increase, but not in the same way.”
FierceMarkets began to offer e-books, white papers, seminars and surveys. “With quality content, it’s a lot easier to get the desired number of leads, so we feel a lot of more comfortable guaranteeing a number,” says Bakley. “We offer sponsorships, and the ability to contribute thought leadership articles. Our MYSQL database captures all the behaviors, and we capture how the subscribers interact with our content. We still have the ability to do performance-based campaigns, but we would much prefer to sell a content marketing program.”